If just one event had to be selected as the signal event of 2014, that event would have to be Ukraine.
Poroshenko. Rarely does an important event fail to become embodied in a particular individual. It is even more reliably true that this process of embodiment, this sudden appearance of a symbolic figure, this way that history has of taking hold of an individual and, as Malraux said, lifting him above himself, making him greater than he was, is our sign that we are indeed witnessing one of those crucial events. I watched that alchemy occur with Mujibur Rahman in Bangladesh and with Massoud in Afghanistan, when the fight to the death between the two Islams quickened. With Izetbegovic in Bosnia, Walesa in Poland, Havel in the Czech Republic. To that short list, to that rare but glorious company of avatars of contemporary greatness, has now been added the name of a previously unknown individual whom I met in the Maidan and then hosted in Paris, a man whom I watched quickly become a wise political leader and a great war leader, a man who stood up to Vladimir Putin when nearly everyone else was bowing down: Petro Poroshenko, the controversial personification of free and fighting Ukraine.
Anti-Semitism. It is no secret that hate for the Jews has been one of Ukraine’s open wounds, a stain on its memory, a national shame. What few realize, however, is that, in the long process of deactivating the anti-Semitic virus (a process that began with the joint fight against Stalinist totalitarianism), 2014 will prove to have been a decisive year. Jews in yarmulkes mixed in the Maidan with Ukrainian nationalists and Cossacks in Astrakhan hats. Solidarity grew in the mingling of memories of the Holodomor and of Babi Yar, the mass murder by starvation and the holocaust by bullets. And, for the long months of this Kiev Commune, during which free speech knew no bounds, a miracle unfolded: not one anti-Semitic word was heard, not one slogan, no graffiti. Sartre drew a distinction between two types of coalescing groups: the lynch mob and the celebratory crowd, the pogromist cabal and the generous assembly, the fraternity of terror and that of brotherhood. The Maidan clearly fell into the second category. And it is one of the inestimable virtues of that revolution to have continued to isolate and marginalize the historical anti-Semitism of Ukraine, though the job is by no means finished.
France. Among the reasons that kept me from participating in the Hollande bashing that was the oxygen of French political life in 2014, the way the French president handled Ukraine stands out. I was present at his early meeting with the man who would become Ukraine’s president. I admired his decision to invite Poroshenko to the D-Day celebrations in Normandy. But the truly great gesture, the one for which I am most grateful to my country’s president and for which I believe history will remember him, was the refusal to deliver the Mistral warships to Russia. That was a courageous decision, one that must have been very agonizing and that exposed him to unfair accusations. Yet it was the only option that was consistent, first, with logic (you don’t deliver military equipment to the enemy in the middle of a war); second, with France’s status as a major power (rather than a Fichtian “commercial state”); and, third, with the country’s interests (I can hardly imagine France’s diplomatic isolation had the warships been delivered, the retaliatory measures that would have followed from some of our allies, and the contracts that our cowardice would have cost us!).
Europe. I railed long and loudly enough against the impotence and fecklessness of a Europe unable to heed the appeal of those young Ukrainians who died clasping the blue flag of the Union not to acknowledge the fact that Europe nevertheless managed, in the latter part of the year, to assume its responsibilities and act appropriately. After the United States set an example, sanctions were agreed on. Even better, those sanctions were applied. Better still, they have produced real effects: the slide of the ruble, the tumble of the Moscow stock market, and massive capital flight. As once in South Africa, Serbia, and Iraq (and soon enough in Iran)—firmness paid off. Once again, and contrary to the self-serving myths of those who are running out of ways to justify their impulse to appease, this corollary of Clausewitz’s theorem has been demonstrated: economics is the continuation of politics and war by far better means.
Putin, finally. I think back to the enthralled commentaries to which we were treated, in the United States and in Europe, at the very beginning of this chain of events. The chess master, said some; the master strategist, said others; the Russian soul personified and cast into an iron body, enjoined still others. A year later, where are we? Crimea is still occupied, of course. The Donbass region is aflame and bleeding. But the would-be emperor is naked. With his economy in ruins, no longer does he seem so impressive to so many. Russians are beginning to doubt the calculations of the old KGB man, who may have lacked the means necessary for his megalomania. And, as the Ukrainian parliament voiced its unanimous desire to join NATO, the twin visits to Kiev of those two pillars of Eurasianism dear to Putin’s heart, the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan, sounded what may be the death knell for his imperial project. Vladimir Putin finishes the year much worse off than he began it: weakened, in retreat, and, I believe, increasingly alone in his theater of shadows covered in ruins.
Of course, the process still needs to play out. The ambitious Marshall Plan for Ukraine that I proposed several months ago in Vienna still needs to be implemented. But the wheel of fortune has turned. The Kremlin no longer speaks the language of destiny. Now, suddenly, we cannot rule out the possibility that 2015 will be the year of Ukraine’s victory.